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Hilltop Villages to See the Côte d’Azur Hinterlands

When most people think of the Côte d’Azur, they think of glamorous spots like Cannes, Antibes, and Nice—beautiful cities, all of them. But this glorious corner of France is also home to charming inland villages that are well worth a visit. Let’s look at a few.

Gourdon, The Eagle’s Nest

Hilltop Villages Côte d'Azur Gourdon Marie de Gourdon

Clinging to the top of a sheer precipice over 2,000 feet above sea level, Gourdon overlooks the Loup River Gorge. From its main square, there are magnificent views across the gorge, all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. The town’s main feature is the Château de Gourdon, with beautiful gardens designed by André Le Nôtre, who also designed the gardens at the Palace of Versailles. Gourdon is listed as one of “The Most Beautiful Villages of France” and portions of the movie Les Miserables were filmed here.

Hilltop Villages Côte d'Azur Gourdon Creative Commons Bernard Gagnon

Saint-Martin-Vésubie, The Little Switzerland


A century ago, the élite of Nice escaped the summer heat by taking their vacations in the mountainous Suisse Niçoise (little Switzerland of Nice.) The village sits at the edge of the Mercantour National Park and is a wonderful base for hiking, biking, and fishing. Just 15 minutes away is the Alpha Wolf Park where wolves live in relative freedom. You can watch several films that show the wolves and their impact on the local environment, then see the actual wolves from the shelter of specially constructed blinds. Also near Saint-Martin-Vésubie is the sporting center La Colmiane, with the longest zip line in France—over a mile long!

Hilltop Villages Côte d'Azur zipline colmiane.com

Roure, Village of Trees


Not far from Saint-Martin-Vésubie sits the medieval village of Roure, in a dramatic position above the Tinée River. Just outside of town is an unusual arboretum where hardwoods and conifers from mountain ranges worldwide are grown. It is also a center for “No-Made” art, where artists place their works outdoors and let the forces of nature refashion them over time.

Hilltop Villages Côte d'Azur Raore Creative Common license Fal7i

Saorge, Tibetan Village

Hilltop Villages Côte d'Azur Saorge

Towering above the steep Roya Gorge, Saorge holds a strategic position and was once home to three military forts. The town has passed between French and Italian control over the centuries and some inhabitants still speak a dialect called royasque, a combination of old languages from the two countries. A highlight of any visit is the Franciscan Monastery, famous for its ancient sundials. Some people say that the combination of a mountain location, narrow streets and a monastery gives Saorge a “Tibetan” character.

Image Credits

Opening image of Gourdon: Côte d’Azur Tourism
Gourdon: Marie de Gourdon
Château de Gourdon garden: Creative Common License attribution Bernard Gagnon
Saint-Martin-Vésubie: Côte d’Azur Tourism
Zipline: www.colmiane.com
Roure: Côte d’Azur Tourism
Raore arboretum: Creative Common license attribution Fal7i
Saorge: Creative Common License attribution Patrick Rouzet


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Keith Van Sickle

Keith and Val Van Sickle made their first trip to Provence decades ago, and it was love at first sight. After that, they came back every year until 2008, when they began a part-time life there, splitting their time between Provence and California.

Over the years, they’ve travelled all over Provence, seeing sights both well-known and obscure. Their French friends have introduced them to favourite restaurants and wineries and picnic spots and taught them funny local expressions (not all for polite company).

Keith now shares this local knowledge in his new book, An Insider’s Guide to Provence. Packed with the Van Sickles’ favourite things to see and do, it’s a must-have for anyone travelling to this glorious corner of France.

Keith previously published two books about the couple's experiences in Provence. One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence, and Are We French Yet?, both are available from Amazon.

You can see all of Keith’s blog posts at Life in Provence.

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